Most people think that as long as you don’t eat the thing you’re allergic to, or come into contact with it, then everything is alright. Wrong. It is so much more complicated than that. For me, in terms of dairy (and this means cow and goat milk proteins now, the jury is still out on sheep milk protein), yes, as long as I avoid eating it I’m fine. With Kiwi fruit, if I touch those or eat them, I’ve got inflamed skin within seconds (and breathing difficulties within minutes if I eat them), but this also translates into skin reactions for other acidic foods – papaya, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes. The reactions aren’t limited to the allergenic foods once eczema is involved; and it’s not limited to foods either, skin creams, shampoos, household cleaners, shower gel, etc. I’ve reacted to all sorts, ironically including E45 which supposedly is designed for skin conditions. In terms of clothes detergents, it’s non-bio and sensitive fabric conditioner all the way because the bio versions really do aggravate your skin. Ironing, a chore for so many, is a necessity for those with eczema or sensitive skin – the fibres are flattened during ironing and so they don’t irritate your skin. With allergies, when eczema is involved, there is a general sensitisation of the skin. This means wearing gloves to wash up or dealing with the consequences of dry/irritated skin (even after moisturisation). Your skin doesn’t produce oils as effectively as everyone else so you end up using pints of moisturiser just so you don’t scratch as if you’ve got the viral plague. Moisturiser Tips: Vaseline Intensive Care (white bottle) is brilliant for eczema prone skin, the formula mimics the skin oils and you actually end up needing to moisturise less often than with cheaper/thinner creams. Plus coconut oil really is as good as they say it is, and no irritation whatsoever, although rather oily and doesn’t absorb quite as quickly. For some just being in the same room as the thing they’re allergic to can trigger a reaction. I’ve friends who are allergic to peanuts, another who is allergic to red berries and another who is allergic to almonds. None of them can be in the same room as the food they’re allergic to for fear of an allergic reaction. There’s also the seasonal changes to deal with. The weather has a lot to answer for when it comes to allergies and skin conditions. Winter is just dry skin, which sounds no big deal, except that when your skin gets really dry, it splits. By itself. This is not fun. Spring and autumn are pretty much ok, but summer is the worst season for skin dealing with allergies, and it’s all because of the sweat produced by your skin. Like it or not skin sweats, and it aggravates the eczema already there (because it never quite goes away) but because sweat is wet it doesn’t give your eczema a chance to dry out (which is how it heals). This leads to the most revolting part of eczema – skin blisters. A blister is designed to protect damaged flesh/skin so it heals. The skin is trying to protect itself from the sweat it’s producing, your skin is protecting you from yourself. And it’s scratchy and horrible and they are painful sometimes. Unsightly is the least of our worries. And that’s just the outside – think about it, if eating something causes our skin to react or our lungs to become inflamed, what do you think it’s doing to the rest of us?
- Stomach upsets, irritated bowel (sometimes allergies can be confused for intolerance or irritated bowel syndrome)
- Because we’re trying to digest something our bodies are reacting to. Reactions are not limited to skin and lungs.
- Sinuses can become inflamed because histamine (produced in an allergic reaction) causes vasodilation so more fluid enters the brain, sinuses etc. More fluid means swelling, this puts pressure on surrounding areas, which is where the headache or migraine comes in.
- We’re trying to process something we’re reacting to, that makes for a serious body battle; which requires energy so we will just go to sleep if that’s ok.
And allergies are partly hereditary. I’ve passed it on to L. She is allergic to milk proteins just like me – but not just ingestion, skin contact as well. And yes, it feels awful to have handed over the genes responsible for what I’ve suffered from my entire life, with a few bells on for good measure. I was hoping her dad’s non-allergenic genes would win this particular fight, sadly not. I’m just hoping a few years of being really careful will enable her to grow out of it. My reactions have diminished over the years but never gone away, and while I can tolerate some dairy, it requires anti-histamines and hydrocortisone cream to deal with the reactions. I’m hoping that her reactions at least diminish as well, even if they don’t disappear. What’s it like to live with someone who is allergic to dairy? Imagine not being able to kiss your own child if you’ve had coffee with milk in. Imagine being the kid who can’t eat pizza with their friends, who has to watch other kids eating ice-cream at birthday parties. Imagine a kid who has just eaten the ice-cream brushing past your child and getting some on their arm causing a huge itchy hive to appear (known medically as urticaria, the standard allergenic reaction on skin) – you then have to leave the party early to go home and get your child the vital dose of anti-histamine (that was the first and last time I forgot it!) Public eateries are a minefield – the kids menu is usually quite good, but as soon as it’s a sandwich you sound like a crazy over-protective parent checking there’s no butter (then sending it back because they either forgot or thought you were a crazy overprotective parent and ignored you). But there’s a limit to what L can have, and she doesn’t always want it. Fortunately she loves chicken nuggets and peas. L is usually brilliant and just rolls with it, she’s only drunk another kids’ milk once (resulting in a frantic dash from work by me to give her medication) and accepts that she sometimes has something different. She gets excited about strawberries and raspberries still, fortunately. Fortunately life is much easier for her than it was for me, there are dairy free ice-creams, alternative milks, chocolates and cheeses (although I’m still looking for a good one in the UK that I can get hold of), but dairy milk is in everything! Pop Quiz! List 5 things milk or milk protein is in……but don’t include standard dairy products (yogurt, cream, milk, cheese). Go on, give it a whirl…Most of you should have come up with chocolate and cakes, some may have come up with bread. Have another point for coming up with each of the things on this list:
Some cake sprinkles – cake sprinkles?! Why?! Actually, well done Aldi for being the only supermarket and common brand to have dairy free cake sprinkles!
- Shower creams
- Some moisturisers
- Baby foods
- Fruit smoothies
- Puff pastry
- Sweeteners like Stevia©– why…just why…?
The list goes on, and it’s ever more ridiculous. So we get to read labels throughout the supermarket, because that’s so much fun to do with a toddler wanting entertainment and running off down the aisles with the trolley! Living with allergies is more complicated for you than for your kids and other people. It’s all a matter of showing your kids what is normal, they accept that. And if you’re not used to it, then it means normalising it for you too. For other people, just don’t be afraid to be honest or say no thank you. For L normal means me eliminating animal dairy products (apart from eggs) from her diet. It means not sharing food with others unless either me or her dad say it’s ok (this includes trying new foods, she takes a bit longer to learn to like things). It means having something different to eat than your friends at nursery. It means saying no when my mum offers to bring pizza to save me cooking (no matter how delicious the ones she buys are), and making spaghetti bolognese instead because I know the L will love that. It means taking medication to kids’ parties and watching them like a hawk around food prepared by others – just in case there’s a reaction. It means moisturiser after every bath and after she’s been swimming (she helps these days, she’s just adorable).For me it means being called over-protective and getting some funny looks from strangers. Because according the general populace if there’s no anaphylactic, life-threatening reaction then it’s not an allergy and I’m fussing. I can guarantee that if either myself or L eat enough dairy there will be life-altering implications. For L the quantity of milk required for her to need hospitalisation is 100mls, that’s 17% of a pint, it’s 34% of ½ a pint, it’s only 68% of a ¼ of a pint. It’s a large swig to some people. At that point hives sweep through her body (as you watch) and she is drowsy to the point of unconscious. I have seen that once, and it scared the life out of both me and her dad. We (and for once I feel confident in using we instead of I…) never want to see that again. Life with allergies means being really bloody careful all the time. There are so many great products out there, and congratulations to companies all who remove unnecessary allergens in their foods, it makes our lives so much easier.